Dance/Movement Therapy with Child Soldiers

In 2006, David Alan Harris launched the first dance/movement therapy group for child soldiers. The dozen teenage members of the group, formed in Sierra Leone’s war-ravaged Kailahun District, had all participated as children in abuses under the Revolutionary United Front in the course of their country’s 11-year civil war. Although long shunned by their community for the active roles they had taken on, the youths benefited substantially from their engagement with this therapeutic approach, grounded in dancing and other culturally-relevant creative activities. Eventually, Poimboi Veeyah Koindu, or PVK, as the teen members came to call themselves in their native Kissi tongue, elected to perform for local townspeople at a widely attended Cultural Healing Event. PVK’s earnest enactment of their wartime history, as a form of apology for bad deeds, prompted elders in attendance to welcome them back into the heart of the community.

There are 300,000 children affiliated with fighting forces around the world. Yet the sort of reconciliation brought about through this dance/movement therapy process between former child combatants and a surrounding community, suffering themselves from the horrors of the war, is all too uncommon an experience anywhere. Given the extraordinary success of this psychosocial support program in promoting authentic healing and reintegration, PVK has gained significant recognition. In November 2009, Orient Global honored PVK with the Freedom to Create—Youth Prize, an international human rights award that recognizes young people from any country on earth who have used artistic creativity in a way that advances social justice and open societies.

The following media consider PVK and David Alan Harris’ work with the group:

Radio Interviews

Child Soldiers: The art and arts of healing (Part 2). Australian Broadcasting Corporation program, All in the Mind. Host Natasha Mitchell interviews David Alan Harris. (30 minutes) Aired June 6, 2009. Listen to the recording and view the transcript.

BBC World Service Africa. Live interviews. November 30, 2009. Audio file.

Writings by David Alan Harris

Harris, D.A. (2010). When child soldiers reconcile: Accountability, restorative justice, and the renewal of empathy. Journal of Human Rights Practice 2, 334-354.

Harris, D.A.  (2010). A 2010 postscript to: Pathways to embodied empathy and reconciliation: Former boy soldiers in a dance/movement therapy group in Sierra Leone.  Website of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers.  

Harris, D.A. (2007). Pathways to embodied empathy and reconciliation: Former boy soldiers in a dance/movement therapy group in Sierra Leone. Intervention: International Journal of Mental Health, Psychosocial Work and Counselling in Areas of Armed Conflict, 5(3), 203-231.

Harris, D.A. (2007). Dance/movement therapy approaches to fostering resilience and recovery among African adolescent torture survivors. Journal on Rehabilitation of Torture Victims and Prevention of Torture, 17(2): 134-155.

Follow-up to presentation at the IX International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims Symposium in Berlin, December 2006, on both interventions with unaccompanied South Sudanese refugee minors in the U.S. and former boy combatants in Sierra Leone.
Recipient of 2007 Research Award from the American Dance Therapy Association.

Harris, D. A. (2009). Dance and Child Soldiers. Foreign Policy in Focus: June 15, 2009.

Harris, D.A. (2009). The paradox of expressing speechless terror: Ritual liminality in the creative arts therapies’ treatment of posttraumatic distress. The Arts in Psychotherapy. 36(2), 94-104. Click here to read this article.

Writings about This Work:

Rasminsky, A. (2009). Moving through trauma: Survivors find hope in the healing powers of dance. Dance Magazine, 83(12): 58-62.

Redston, M. (2010). Review of David Alan Harris talk at London School of Contemporary Dance. Arts in Action website.